Ethnicity and higher education: The role of aspirations, expectations and beliefs

Nabil Khattab*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


The papers in this issue examine various aspects of ethnic differences in higher education. The first three papers, all of which focus on Britain, attempt to explain the very high motivation behind enrollment in higher and further education by ethnic minority students. These papers argue that investment in higher education is a defiance strategy that is used by ethnic minorities to counterbalance the effect of ethnic penalties. It seems that aspirations are still significant in shaping the educational attainment and are fuelled by the grim structural barriers facing ethnic minorities. The anticipation of labour market discrimination on the one hand, and the belief in the value of education as the main means for social mobility on the other hand, lead ethnic minorities in Britain to over-invest in education. The fourth paper tells a different story, in that immigrant students experience systematic disadvantages throughout their school careers including a much lower enrollment in higher education. These young immigrants hold more negative perceptions towards the value of education, not only in comparison with their Italian counterparts, but it seems also in comparisons with minority young people in Britain. However, in the last paper, the results resemble the British case, in that the second generation students hold higher academic expectations than their non-immigrant origin peers, and that these higher expectations are associated with higher levels of persistence and attainment. The authors here highlight the importance of the theory of immigrant optimism in explain the between-groups differences. However, this theory does not seem to have strong explanatory power in the Italian case, if anything, perhaps ‘immigrant pessimism’ is a better theory to explain the low aspirations for higher education and poor educational attainment among immigrants in Italy. Of course, further evidence is required to substantiate this claim.

Original languageEnglish
Early online date30 May 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 30 May 2018

Structured keywords

  • SPAIS Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship


  • Aspirations
  • ethnic inequality
  • expectations
  • higher education
  • immigrant optimism


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